Mia Hansen-Love’s Women: Isabelle Huppert, Lea Seydoux, and More on the Director

Isabelle Huppert remembers Mia Hansen-Løve’s camera always moving. In 2016’s Things to Come, the Oscar-nominated star plays a philosophy teacher whose life falls apart in an instant when her mother dies and her husband leaves her. The character, based on Hansen-Løve’s own mother, finds a kind of rebirth in this untethering, and within that, Huppert—by this point long considered among France’s greatest actors—delivers one of her richest and most naturalistic screen performances. It’s evident in the most mundane details: hugging a donkey, fishing a big blue IKEA bag out of a rubbish bin, slipping on the sand while hunting for cell signal. “She walks and she walks and she walks, and it’s very difficult to make this palpable [on screen],” Huppert says. “But it’s really quite amazing.” By the movie’s end, there’s a near childlike wonder in her luminous portrayal. “She just got so funny, so free,” Hansen-Løve tells me of Huppert. “Something really opened in her.”

Of late, the Paris-born Hansen-Løve has repeatedly proven that this “something” may actually be her own artistry—her filmmaking focuses on the tiniest intricacies of human behavior and then builds to a kind of cathartic realism. Her upcoming movie, One Fine Morning (screening next week at the New York Film Festival), features a never-better Léa Seydoux in a role modeled on Hansen-Løve, examining the period just before the writer-director lost her father to Alzheimer’s. We get to know Seydoux’s Sandra as a single mother, in a new romance, and as a heartbroken daughter—each track of story has weight and depth. “It’s one of the first roles that I’ve played where I’m not a fantasy—I’m a real woman, I’m a real person,” Seydoux tells me.

Within 24 hours of my putting interview requests out, Huppert, Seydoux, Vicky Krieps, and an off-the-grid Mia Wasikowska agreed to speak for this piece—whether during morning, noon, or night. “Anything for Mia,” Krieps assured me as we began our conversation about her Bergman Island director. Huppert, for her part, spent a few moments gushing about Hansen-Løve’s recent work before we wrapped. Each actor has forged a deep artistic bond with the director. “I have this subjective idea of truth I’m trying to reach,” Hansen-Løve tells me. “Every director has his or her idea, but I’m exigent. I really want it. And if it means doing 30 takes, I can do the 30 takes.”

One Fine Morning.

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. 

The thing is, 30 takes in, Hansen-Løve doesn’t want you to see the acting at all. She dislikes the word performance. Her approach to actors reflects her style as a filmmaker: “It’s not meant to be seen or admired. It’s meant to be forgotten.”

From her earliest movies, she pulled off that disappearing act. Having acted as a teenager in the films of Olivier Assayas (with whom, later on, she was in a relationship for 15 years), Hansen-Løve developed a refined understanding of what she desired from performers, a sensibility only bolstered by directing herself. Her brilliant second feature, Father of My Children (2009), zeroes in on the interior lives of a half dozen or so characters, as family members react to a crisis; each person is given space, empathy, quietude, and specificity. The director wasn’t even 30 years old when she made that movie, which won a special jury prize at Cannes. Its maturity and deftness, in that context, is staggering.

As a young filmmaker, Hansen-Løve surrounded herself with similarly young and inexperienced crew members, as well as lesser-known actors, giving herself the space to assert her chops behind the camera without fear. She learned how to communicate her preferences in prep and production for sophisticated, intellectual, and nuanced filmmaking. “I could not have started with Isabelle Huppert,” the director, now 41, says and then laughs. “I needed to have self-confidence and experience—to be really ready to have a dialogue with that kind of actress.”

Things to Come earned Hansen-Løve the Berlin International Film Festival’s best director prize. Huppert tells me that what first struck her about Hansen-Løve, with whom she’d costarred in Assayas’s 2000 film Sentimental Destinies, was her vision. “She has very precise ideas of what she expects from you, and she interferes quite often, but in such a subtle way, with such precision, with such sensitivity,” Huppert says. “It was always so accurate. It’s like in painting, when you want to add a final little touch, but more like a Matisse painting—something really thin and sensitive.”

Things to Come.

© IFC Films/Everett Collection.